With the Reno Rage (nee Renegades) nothing but a fading memory, the closest thing to the National Hockey League available for Carson Country hockey fans this winter will be the Northern Nevada High School Club Inline Hockey League.
Eleven Northern Nevada high school teams, including squads from both Carson and Douglas, are currently participating in the league season which runs from mid-November through late January. All of the games are played at either the Pony Express Pavilion in Carson City or the Hockey House in Sparks, the two facilities in the area which have tiled courts designed specifically for inline hockey.
Except for the fact it's played sans ice, an inline hockey game appears similar to a traditional ice hockey game. There are a few subtle differences, however, which actually make inline hockey a higher scoring and more wide-open game than ice hockey.
The differences include the number of total players per side on the hockey surface (six in ice hockey vs. five in inline hockey) and the fact there are no offside or icing violations in inline hockey. The roller hockey puck also differs from an ice hockey puck; it's lighter in weight and travels on "runners" - raised pieces of plastic - which allow it to glide across the hockey court.
Although inline hockey is currently a club sport at both Carson and Douglas (the teams receive no funding from their respective athletic departments and athletes do not receive "letters" for their participation), the sport has generated a considerable amount of interest within the schools' student bodies despite the roughly $125 fee required to join the team.
As an example, more than 50 athletes tried out for the 13 roster positions on the Senators' varsity team this year. Because of the interest in the sport, Carson is also fielding a junior varsity team this season.
Part of the interest in the team stems from the fact the Carson hockey squad, now in its fifth year of existence, is one of the school's most successful teams, having won the league title in each of the past two years.
"They're several reasons why we've done so well," said third-year coach Steve Constantino, himself an ex-collegiate ice hockey player. "We've got access to a facility for practice, draw from a large high school, and have several players to build through who've grown up playing in the High Sierra Inline Hockey League."
With the majority of Northern Nevada's large high schools fielding teams, Constantino believes it's only a matter of time before inline hockey gains recognition from the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association. If the NIAA recognizes hockey, the sport would have the same status as alpine skiing, water polo and girls soccer, which would mean players would be able to earn letters for their participation.
"We've gone before the NIAA twice pushing for (hockey) to be recognized," Constantino said. "We'll try again next year. They (the NIAA) can't ignore us forever."
The two favorites to win the league title this year, Carson and Douglas, met in the Senators' home opener on Saturday night at the Pony Express Pavilion in a contest that rivaled any Senators vs. Tigers football or basketball game in terms of intensity.
The Senators eventually won, 10-3, but not before tension levels got so high that two players - one from each team - will have to sit out their team's next three games for drawing major penalties. With the win, Carson moved into first place in the league with a 2-0 record.
During the game, five different Senator players scored in the first half to help Carson build a 5-2 lead (roller hockey games consist of two 22-minute halves). Douglas cut the lead to two early in the second, but consecutive goals by John Ahdunko, Martin Ellis, Michael McBride, John Myles and Ahdunko again iced the game for the Senators. Ahdunko's two goals in the second half combined with his first half tally gave him a hat trick for the game.
Carson has three home games remaining on its schedule: Saturday vs. Galena (5 p.m.), Jan. 8 vs. South Lake Tahoe (6 p.m.) and Jan. 29 vs. McQueen (5 p.m.).